CN reaches out to farmers on grain movement needs

Canadian National Railway officials are consulting grain organizations to help draft a plan to move the 2018-19 crop and file a plan by July 31, as is now required by law.

CN vice-president Sean Finn said the requirement under Bill C-49 formalizes a process the railway did itself in the past, although to a lesser extent.

“This is not ground breaking. This would have been done informally,” Finn said in an interview.

But now that the law requires a plan, the railway wants to make sure it holds “genuine” consultations with stakeholders, he said.

“We don’t grow grain, we move it,” Finn said.

So far, he said those involved in the process agree that the process is as important as the end result. It speaks to transparency and a willingness by supply-chain players to be well-prepared.

CN has repeatedly apologized for its failure to move grain through the winter and invested significantly in capital and staff in its pledge to do better.

In Saskatchewan, the construction of double track east of Melville was completed in late June. Similar projects at the Manitoba and Alberta borders will be complete by November.

Finn said the railway has already been warned about the significant carryover from the 2017-18 crop.

“Speaking to farmers in Western Canada and the grain producers, we expect to have a pretty strong month of July because there’s quite a big carryover in the bins,” he said. “That’s got to move between July and early August to make room for this crop and so we’ve got to be ready for that. We’re well prepared. We have cars available.”

Carryover is pegged at 12.6 million tonnes, up from a previous estimate of about 11 million tonnes.

Finn said as the crop and new information comes in this fall, and with the help of producers, CN’s plan will likely be adapted. A second plan for winter grain shipments is due in October.

Asked if the plans would prevent grain backlogs, he said they would help.

“One thing is for sure, at CN it will focus our minds on making sure that we enter the grain crop season with more resilience, called surge capacity,” he said. “That I think is helpful.”

He added that he expects the company to continue investing in its network.

“We’re looking at 2019 and we don’t think that will be a year we will see a large reduction in capital expenses,” he said.

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